Living Wisely in Paradox this Summer

I love the summer – long, sun-drenched days, the sweet smell of honeysuckle in the evening air, the juicy joy of peaches and watermelon, people gathering in parks, on patios, at lakesides and around music stages being friendlier, slower and lighter than we Torontonians seem able to be at colder times of the year. It is a precious time to delight, to recharge, to connect with one another and to marvel at the blessings blossoming everywhere.

At the very same moment, this summer has also begun with inhumane and morally outrageous decisions in the US – the Supreme Court’s Muslim Ban and the ‘zero-tolerance’ immigration policy that has included separating more than 2,000 children from their migrant parents as they cross the border, many of whom are fleeing violence and seeking asylum.  It is a precious time to be awake, to connect with one another, and to amplify the values and actions that affirm and protect human dignity.

It is a time of sharpened paradox.  And it is a perfect opportunity to draw on Jewish wisdom to walk in both these worlds, making conscious choices to neither sink into despair and helplessness, nor swim in summer’s delights in ways that separate or numb us from the importance of this political moment.

As Jews, we have known the experiences many times over of being denied citizenship and being refugees and asylum seekers.  We have known the horrifying experiences of families torn apart from one another.  And we continue to encounter the face of anti-Semitism that labels the Jews as ‘Other’, blaming and scapegoating us as the problem when people want to find a simplistic cause for socio-economic strain and struggle.  The imperative to respond when others face these forms of injustice and discrimination rises from the awakened sensitivity of our history, the religious affirmation of our shared humanity rather than separating ‘us’ and ‘them’, and the Torah’s repeated call to care for, to love and to protect the stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt).

I want to offer three ways of engaging:

1) I encourage taking hold of this as an opportunity for strength and solidarity. Please take a look at the resources and actions from these inspiring Jewish organizations: Truah, Bend the Arc, and The Religious Action Center.

2) I have been drawing on the Jewish practice of parents blessing their children on Friday nights to extend prayers through the family and friends around my table to the children and families in detention centers and cells, our hands, our attention and our hearts reaching outward.

יְבָּרֶׁכְכם יְהוָּה, וְיִשְמְרֶׁכם

Ye’varech’e’chem Adonai, ve’yish’merechem

May the Holy One bless you and keep you.

יָּאֵּר יְהוָּה פָּנָּיו אֵּלֶׁיכם, וִיחֻנֶׁכם

Ya’er Adonai panav ey’lechem, ve’yichune’chem

May the light of the Divine shine on you and be gracious to you.

יִשָּא יְהוָּה פָּנָּיו אֵּלֶׁיכם, וְיָּשֵּם לְכם שָּלוֹם

Yisa Adonai panev ey’lechem, ve’yasem lachem shalom, shalom, shalom.

May Adonai’s presence be lifted to you and grant you peace.

3) Judaism is filled with blessings to deepen the experiences of this summer with thankfulness.  Let’s practice growing our capacity for wonder and a heart of gratitude:

Blessed are You, Source of Life, Sovereign of Time and Space…

Baruch ata Adonai eloheynu melekh ha’olam…

Upon smelling fragrant trees or shrub: …bore atzei ve’samim/who creates fragrant trees.

Upon smelling fragrant fruit: …hanoten re’ach tov ba’perot/who gives a wonderful fragrance to fruits. (yes, there is really a blessing for this!)

Upon seeing wonders of nature: (eg. lightning, a shooting star, a sunrise, a mountain):  …oseh ma’aseh ve’reshit/Source of Creation.

Upon hearing thunder or seeing a storm: …she’kocho u’gevurato maleh olam/whose power and strength fill the whole world.

Upon seeing creatures or trees of striking beauty: …she’kacha lo be’olamo/who has this kind of beauty in your world.


May it be a summer of goodness, justice and peace.

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